It’s been said that “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and the soul of its people”. There is no doubt the same thing can be said about the genesis of the culture of small towns. And nowhere is that culture that springs from the heart and soul of the people more apparent than during a county fair and rodeo.
Anyone who’s been to a fair and rodeo can call up the images. The lights shining down on the arena on a Friday night, the glow visible on the horizon even in town. The sound of the announcer’s voice coming over the PA and drifting through the air, the accent and cadence familiar year after year. The heavy clang of metal on metal as gates are pulled open, as thundering hooves land on dirt that’s already packed down and the distant roar rises from the crowd.
This annual event is a Western tradition that is truly an extension of the people who bring it to life year after year. These are people who value hard work, in others as well as themselves. They judge a man (or woman) not by the money that’s made or the fancy clothes that are worn or the big house that’s been purchased but by the effort that’s put into their labor and the pride they take in a job well done.
For the most part, these are men and women who are accustomed to being their own boss and working alone, and, in their most honest moments, they’ll admit to the danger in it. It’s one thing to get thrown from a horse when you’re in sight of the barn or have a good signal on your cell phone; it’s a totally different story when you’re all alone with no one to help you but…you.
So, when they get together, as they do every summer, it’s only natural that the events they enjoy are an extension of the rhythm of the work that fills their daily lives. Farmers will exhibit the finest produce they harvested that year. Women will display their most exquisite quilts and needlework. The “kids” will show the lamb or the goat or the pig or the calf or the chickens they’ve devoted months to raising, not allowing themselves to dwell too much on the inevitable sale that will come at the end of the things.
And the cowboys…the cowboys will show just how fast they can rope a cow on their own or—better yet—be part of a team that does that and more.
The fair and rodeo is the one time of year when people who are individuals, above all else, and scorn anyone who dares to boast or brag will, with no small amount of pleasure, join a team and show off their best moves on horseback.
It’s that way today, just like it’s been that way, all along.
The first Kiowa County Fair and Rodeo was held in 1910 (or maybe 1912, no one’s exactly sure). The town itself was less than 25 years old, and the fairgrounds would not be built for another decade or so.
It originally began as a Labor Day Celebration but gradually evolved into a 3-day fair rather than an actual festival. Over time, it was moved to the second week in September, and that’s where it’s been, for the most part, ever since.
During those early years, all events were held downtown. Space was limited—there weren’t that many buildings built yet—so exhibits were somewhat “meager” and were jammed into any space available such as store buildings, the school house, tents—if tents were around. Maine Street was the location of all the concessions and was also the site for the race track. In those early days, foot races, sack races and barrel races were the main competitions as well as any other event that would gather enough people to participate and interest enough people to watch.
The ball diamond was down in Jackson’s pasture, not far from where Jackson’s Pond is now, and the annual ball game was no small part of the annual celebration.
In 1916, the first “Kiowa County Free Fair and Barbeque” was held, and there hasn’t been a single break in it since that first year.
Five years later, the Board of County Commissioners acquired the land that is the site of the fairgrounds now. and, First off, a few small livestock pens were built. An exhibition building for agriculture products was added as was another building for “fancy work” and household displays. The present race track was laid out in that first year with the baseball diamond being in the middle where the arena is today.
However, the “crowning touch” was the construction of the grandstand, comprised totally of wood and capable of seating 300 people and providing an unobstructed view of both the race track and the baseball diamond. AS the years passed, the crowds grew and events were added. More buildings were built, including the Community Building constructed by the WPA, and, in the mid-1940s, the metal grandstands were constructed that are still used today.
At some point, it’s unsure when, the ball game was replaced by more rodeo events until the ball game ceased to be part of the fair and rodeo, at all. But, since then, other competitions have sprung up and garnered their own enthusiasts.
So, what’s up for this year? A schedule will provide the best (and most complete) schedule description of events, but what follows is a summary of the upcoming festivities as told by Bart Michaels, the man at the helm of the event and President of the Kiowa County Fair Board.
Yes, there will be horse races on Friday and Saturday, starting at 1pm. The fair will also start at the same time as the rodeo. On Tuesday night, there will be team roping. On Wednesday night, barrel racing. Thursday night, the ranch rodeo. Friday day will be the free barbeque—beef and all the fixings, just like always. Friday night, there will be mini-broncs both saddled and not and riders will be eligible for the junior NFR to qualify to go to Las Vegas. Saturday, there will be the rodeo and ranch bronc riding. Sunday will start off with a little Cowboy Church with Pastor Imel followed by Fun Day, also known as rodeo events for kids. For the adults, the beer tent will be in the old 4H show barn behind the grandstands and will be open from 5pm to midnight on Thursday and 11am to midnight on Friday and Saturday. Local talent Rhett Uhland will also be performing with his band, which is guaranteed to draw a crowd.
There are some traditions that fall by the wayside, piece by piece, little by little until the traditions themselves are long gone and relegated only to the memories of those old enough to remember. That’s just the way of life, they say. But there are some traditions that must be maintained, for the traditions themselves are not just a way of life but part of life itself…its celebration and joy and gathering of the people from whom that life springs forth and is enjoyed day after day, year after year. And so it is with the Kiowa County Fair and Rodeo. Yeehaw.